Thick Skin

wandThis week in classes we’ve talked a lot about the craft of writing…what goes into it, what makes a good piece, what makes a good novel.

One thing I’ve learned in life, love, and writing is that we have to have thick skin.

If we can’t take criticism well—either to heed it or let it roll off our backs—we’re not going to enjoy being in the writing world. We’re not going to enjoy the beauty of putting something out for public consumption. I’ve been to many different types of book talks, and the truth is, not everyone is going to love everything we write.

I chalk it up to the fact that they just don’t have good taste.

All kidding aside, I always keep in mind what J.K. Rowling said. It’s quite profound and the reason we write to begin with:

“I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself. I never in my wildest dreams expected this popularity.”

Moreover, she continues modestly, stating:

“I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”

People can be quick to criticize other people’s writing. Some people have never written a thing in their life, but seem to be the first to say something wasn’t good or was not enjoyable. To those people, I task you: try writing something and see how far you get. It takes passion, hard work, and dedication to complete a task like writing a novel.

Writers feel a sense of need, a need that involves putting words on a page. It is part of our makeup; it’s part of who we are. Don’t let other people decide whether or not you are good enough. As James Cameron said, “Don’t put limitations on yourself. There are plenty of people who will do that for you.”

If you don’t have thick skin, you won’t make it. Do the best you can with the talent you have. Follow your heart and your pen, and write what you know. Write what happened during that horrible time in your life. Write how people let you down or lift you up. Write what moves you. Write to enlighten.

Overall, write what sets your heart on fire.JohnIrving

 

“Failure Is An Option, But Fear Is Not.”

Shaking in my shoes as I faced my fear of “flying on the trapeze.”

 

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I was struck by the quote above that reads: “Failure is an option, but fear is not.” Those eight words were spoken by director James Cameron during a 20-minute brilliant talk on Ted. Cameron’s reputation as a hard-nosed, determined, and often crass director leaves him open to criticism. Critics love to hate him.

I happen to find the man compelling.

Dana Goodyear’s profile piece on him entitled, “James Cameron: Man of Extremes,” is a solid profile of a man who understand the word perseverance. He does not take no for an answer. Within the article, Goodyear quotes him as saying, “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.” In fact, I might go as far as to say his curiosity makes him riveting to listen to. He’s created cameras, gone deep diving to see the wreck of the Titanic (and invented technology to shoot it), made documentaries, and works with NASA. These are some powerful words to live by offered to us by an intelligent man.

Several years ago, I tackled a fear. Heights combined with flying = The Trapeze. I watched Sarah Jessica Parker fly on the trapeze in New York on an episode of “Sex and The City.” I figured I could do it, too. A group of us booked time at the Trapeze School in Baltimore, right on the field at the Inner Harbor. My hands and legs were shaking as I climbed up the very tall, very high rickety ladder to the teeny-tiny platform. The only way down was via the Trapeze.

I did it three times. And that was it. Enough. But I did it.

I’m proud of myself for persevering. Likewise, I believe I’ve persevered in so many other instances, in particular with the publication of my independent novel; for these reasons, James Cameron’s credos are rules I live by daily. I wouldn’t want to ever be afraid of failure. It’s true that failure is an option, but not trying is even worse.

What have you tried – and succeeded at – that makes you proud of yourself? How do you conquer the everyday challenges of your life without living in fear of it?

I’d love to hear about it.

 

Why I Can’t See “Titanic” in 3D

Dear Readers,

So it’s here: “Titanic” in 3D. It’s been 15 years since we’ve seen the film on the big screen, and now it’s back as that mogul James Cameron tries to lure film buffs to return to theatres to see it in a new way. The James Cameron 3D way.

I’ve discussed “Titanic” with many of my friends and students. It typically goes like this.

“Professor Verni, don’t you want to see ‘Titanic’ in 3D?”

“No.”

“Why not?” they ask. “You’re a romantic. It’s one of the great love stories in the movies.”

This is certainly true, but apparently, they don’t know me well enough to understand how I am the epitome of a “hopeless romantic” as opposed to simply a “romantic.” The “hopeless” in the words means that we are hopelessly hopeful there will be a happy ending, that love will conquer all. “Titanic” does not give us a happy ending, not for Rose and Jack, and not for many of the other passengers who died on that tragic evening. It’s a film I was happy to see once, not twice, and not again, in a 3D kind of way. It’s way too much for me to handle. There’s just too much sorrow and agony. There’s enough of that in the real world, and I, for one, am pretty sure it will just depress me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one to rail against a film. “Titanic” was brilliant. It deserved the awards it won. It was an amazing piece of work, it’s just that, as Celine Dion’s “heart can’t go on,” my poor heart can’t take it again.

And yet, the irony is, I can watch and have my heart broken over and over again as I get involved in films like “The Bridges of Madison County,” or “Out of Africa,” or “The Thorn Birds.” Good grief. I’ve cried many tears over those movies…and will continue to do so every time I click through the channels and see one of those films playing. I stop and watch, absolutely mesmerized. I can’t help myself.

But “Titanic” is so desperately sad. Nevertheless, I will endorse it in this manner: If you never had the opportunity to see it back in 1997 on the big screen, you may want to indulge in this wreck of broken hearts and disaster in the theatre. It is a movie worth seeing. I just can’t put myself through it again.

With my apologies to James Cameron,

Lessons from “The Holiday” and James Cameron: Be the Leading Lady of Your Life and Find Some Gumption

 

I could watch “The Holiday” over and over, and it’s not just to see charming Jude Law in action. Nancy Meyers’s adorable flick became a rom-com favorite of mine because I especially love the relationship between Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), a retired Hollywood screenwriter, and Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), a British journalist on holiday in L.A. How sweet and special is this relationship? And what lessons can we learn from it?

I’m allowing this movie relationship to influence a short story I’m currently writing (the first part of it I posted a few weeks ago) that involves a nurturing relationship between a younger woman and an older woman. My two characters make a connection because they have both lost their immediate families. I hope to complete this story and illustrate how we can learn from others and that something beautiful can grow from a new relationship of shared affections and mutual respect—no matter what the age of the parties involved—similar to what Arthur and Iris share.

There are a lot of lessons in “The Holiday.” Two of them go hand-in-hand: (1) “be the leading lady of your own life” and (2) start by having some “gumption.” We need to speak up for ourselves when things don’t go how we want them to go; we need to tell someone when they’re hurting us; we need to fight for what we believe in and deserve.

For example, in the clip I’ve included, the dialogue goes as follows:

Arthur: Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you’re behaving like you’re the best friend.

Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake…

If you’re not the leading lady of your own life, who will be? It takes, as Arthur says in another scene in the film, “gumption” to do it. Instead of the “Got Milk?” advertising campaign, I’m proposing the “Got Gumption?” campaign. We all need a little gumption and we need to believe in ourselves.

My feature writing class just read Dana Goodyear’s piece from 2009 that was featured in The New Yorker; she earned a finalist prize for profile writing in 2010 for it by the American Society of Magazine Editors. The piece is entitled “Man of Extremes: The Return of James Cameron.” Innovator, dreamer, visionary, writer, and movie-maker of films such as “Titanic,” “Avatar,” and “The Terminator,” Cameron has a whole lot of gumption. Loads of it. He wouldn’t be the success he is today without it.

For viewers of “The Holiday” and fans of the character of Iris, she thrills us towards the end of the film when she triumphantly levels her on-again, off-again scumbag boyfriend. Again, the dialogue goes as follows:

Iris: It’s over! This twisted, toxic thing between us — it’s finally finished! I’m miraculously done being in love with you! I’ve got a life to start living and you’re not going to be in it! Now, I’ve got somewhere to be and you have to get the hell out!”

Jasper (the ex): What exactly has got into you?

Iris: I don’t know, but I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling gumption!

Arthur Abbott helped Iris find her gumption. James Cameron showed the naysayers and critics of  “Titanic” how a big-budget film CAN make it in Hollywood. Can you think of others with a lot of gumption?

If you haven’t found your own brand of gumption yet and haven’t become the leading lady (or man) of your own life, you’d better get to it.

I know you’ve got it in there somewhere.